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Historic footpaths around England and Wales have been lost – here’s how you can help save them

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A walking charity is appealing for people to help it restore more than 49,000 miles of footpaths that are missing from modern maps in England and Wales. The Ramblers organization says that time pressure applies, as there are only five years left to collect the evidence needed to build and submit applications to restore the paths for future generations.

Earlier this year, thousands of volunteers compared current maps of England and Wales with two historic maps from 120 years ago. They used the "Don’t Lose Your Way" online mapping tool, which split England and Wales into 154,000 squares of 1km, each of which was searched by two separate users. While 49,138 miles of missing paths were found – nearly five times more than initial estimates – there are four more steps required to save them.

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Hikers walk on a mountain trail with the focus of the image on one hiker's right boot
Citizens can help find paths missing from modern maps in England and Wales © Massimo Colombo / Getty Images

These steps include prioritizing the paths that add the most benefit for people, researching individual paths to find out if they can be saved, and building applications based on historical evidence. The Ramblers walking charity is working with volunteers and partner organizations to develop resources to support thousands of other volunteers across the country to undertake these tasks, because the British government has said that applications to have the paths restored must be made by January 1, 2026. After this date, it will no longer be possible to reclaim and safeguard lost rights of way.

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If the lost paths were restored, it would increase the path network in England and Wales by up to a third. "The amazing response we had from the public to help us search for missing rights of way just goes to show what an important place our path network holds in the hearts of so many of us," says Jack Cornish, the project's program manager. "By getting the most useful of these paths back on the map, we will not only be saving a little bit of our history, we’ll also be able to improve the existing network, creating new and better walking routes, enabling more of us to more easily enjoy the outdoors.”

Those who would like to become a Don’t Lose Your Way volunteer and get involved with these next steps should check out the website here.

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